Gallpen Dairy moves to the beat of its own drum. Located in Blighty, on the 121 hectare property ‘Lavilla’, the dairy boasts a cozy 170 cow herd that roam lush pastures, and are milked twice a day.
The herd is made up of big, healthy Fresians, and a few Swiss Browns, for whom owner Rachel Napier holds a soft spot.“They are supreme, and I love them,” she said.“They add personality to the herd.”The only staff on the farm are Ms Napier, her partner Craig Gallpen, and Rachel’s young daughter Tabitha Napier, who is in Year 11 at Deniliquin High School and loves helping out on the farm when she can.Mr Gallpen bought the property from his family in 1993, and has worked there ever since. Ms Napier joined the team in 2009.Morning and night, the couple, Tabitha, and sometimes Mr Gallpen’s dad, perform all necessary duties on the farm, including milking, drenching, marking, treating, rearing calves, cutting grass and feeding out.It’s tough at times, and rewarding at others.Ms Napier described their philosophy like this: “Farming is like religion. There’s something for everyone. And if there isn’t, you can make something up!”.There’s no denying that Ms Napier and Mr Gallpen run their farm in a way that separates them from the pack.It’s one of the reasons they chose to become exclusive suppliers for Riverina Fresh, which currently only has 20 suppliers.It means the company’s relationships with their farmers are paramount to their triumph.Quality is another factor, and Riverina Fresh was recently voted Australia’s ‘Best Rated Milk Brand’ by Finderau, based on taste, freshness and value for money.Ms Napier is not surprised that Riverina Fresh has found success.“We are rapt (with the award). There’s a lot of good competition out there, so for a little company like us to get an award like that is great,” Ms Napier said.“High quality milk comes from care factor. If you didn’t care, it would affect the process the whole way through.“Gallpen Dairy’s success is a combination of sustainability, quality, care, and an intense attention to detail.“Your milk quality is a direct reflection of how you run your business.“We treat every cow like they are our only cow.“They all have names, and they have family names too. Often, you will milk a mother and daughter next to each other.”Ms Napier said careful ethical treatment of cows is only the tip of the iceberg.Gallpen Dairy also engages in a painstaking teat cleaning process — using a unique brush to scrub each teat individually to avoid contamination and mastitis.Sustainability is another key influence behind Gallpen Dairy’s philosophy.“We don’t want to milk any more than 200 cows,” Ms Napier affirms.“We are pretty confident that way we can keep growing our own feed, and won’t have to rely on external prices.“At the moment, we only buy in grain and a bit of hay.“We just started to make our own lucerne.”Gallpen Dairy also rear their own replacement herd, keeping the farm steadily ticking along without pushing it beyond its capacity.The dairy gets closer to self sufficiency each year, but reliability of water availability and grain can impede that process.Their current philosophy was adopted after a tough 2016, after an out of character wet year. The farm was a lot bigger back then — with more than 450 head of cattle across a combined 550 hectares.Their then supplier, Murray Goulburn, experienced financial issues at the same time, which Ms Napier said caused milk prices to quickly plummet.“There were 12 people working on the farm and they were paid a collective $450,000 a year,” she said.“It was costing us more to milk than what we were getting in return.”That result forced Gallpen Dairy to make an incredibly tough decision — they could keep going the way they were and lose everything, or change everything.Mr Gallpen and Ms Napier chose the latter, and cut their staff and sold 200 cows to a neighbouring dairy. While difficult, the decision allowed Gallpen Dairy to remain viable.“The key to our survival was an ability to make tough decisions,” Ms Napier said.“There was no procrastinating, we couldn’t afford to.“We immediately downsized, and made the decisions we needed to go on.“This put us in a good position.”It was in the year that followed that Mr Gallpen and Ms Napier heard about Riverina Fresh.It was scouting suppliers, and Gallpen Dairy made the switch in July 2017.“They knew our situation and they were really great and keen to support us,” Ms Napier said.“They have been loyal, and done everything they said they were going to do.“They have a connection with us.”Working in such close quarters with her partner, and with a limited workforce, isn’t always easy, Ms Napier says.But she said the good parts make it worth it.“Every day we are doing something different.“When things are great, they are fantastic.“We love being able to share what we do with our friends and we believe there is a strong future for dairy.“Tough times don’t last forever, but tough people do.”Gallpen Dairy is active on social media spruiking the benefits of the Australian dairy industry, and introducing their cows to their followers. Go to www.facebook.com/GallpenDairy to learn more.